Another Court Allows Corporate Liability for Human Rights Abuses

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On Monday, I wrote about the big news that the Supreme Court will hear the Kiobel case, about whether corporations may be sued for complicity in human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).

Shortly thereafter, in the Sarei v. Rio Tinto case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals became the third federal appeals court to reject Kiobel, and the fourth appeals court to find that corporations may be sued under the ATS.

The Rio Tinto decision was issued by an “en banc” panel of the Ninth Circuit, which basically means a lot more judges (eleven) than the standard three-judge panel, often used in particularly significant cases. A majority of the court not only found that corporations could be sued, but also rejected a number of other arguments commonly made by corporate defendants (such as that the case interferes with US foreign policy).

As Chimene Kietner blogged over at opinio juris, the decision “reads like a virtual catalog of contested questions surrounding the interpretation and application of” the ATS. Chimene’s post may be of interest to those who want more info about the specific issues in play but don’t want to read 166 pages of opinions. (The majority opinion is only about 50 pages, though!)

Why would the Ninth Circuit act now when it’s already known that the Supreme Court will address the Kiobel issue later this year? Impossible to say for sure, but the judges might have wanted to try to influence the high court.

ERI filed two amicus briefs in the Rio Tinto case, which concerns abuses allegedly associated with a mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

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